A group of Democratic lawmakers backed by about 40 low-wage workers from across the state on Thursday kicked off the Fight for 15 — an effort to raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Standing in front of the Senate chambers at the state Capitol, Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami-Dade, noted Orlando led the nation in the number of jobs paying less than $20,000 a year, and it was time for Florida to join “the big boys” like New York and increase pay for home health care workers, tourism employees and other service workers.
“When you pay someone a wage that they cannot live on, and I say this as an African-American, that’s akin to slavery, because you’ve locked them into a cycle of poverty they can never get out of,” Bullard said.
Nationwide, minimal pay ranges from the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour to $9.47 in Washington State. Seattle and San Francisco passed increases that will climb to $15 an hour and New York in July began moving to $15-an-hour minimum wage for fast-food workers.
A study by Florida International University recently found that since the Great Recession the greatest increase in those working for the minimum wage in Florida has been female workers. The report also found that Florida is third nationwide in the number of workers making the federal minimum of $7.25.
This is the fourth year that Bullard has filed a bill to raise the state minimum wage, currently set at $8.05 an hour. The proposal has yet to pass out of a committee.
“Let’s hear this bill and debate it in public,” said Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orange County, to cheers from the assembled workers.
A 2014 United Way study found that 45 percent of Florida households, or 3.2 million homes, can’t afford basic housing, child care, food and health care.
“We can’t even afford to get a bus ticket to and from work,” said Bleu Rainer, 26-year-old fast-food worker from Tampa. “So we ask elected officials to stand with the workers and against the CEOs who make millions and treat us like trash and don’t want to pay a livable wage.”
Representatives Jose Javier Rodrigues, D-Miami-Dade; John Cortes, D-Osceola; and Lori Berman, D- Palm Beach stood among the workers, while Bullard and Torres explained “the fight for 15 is a fight to lift people out of poverty.”
The lawmakers also issued a minimum-wage challenge to their colleagues.
“Let’s see how you live on $8.05 an hour for a week,” declared Bullard, who said he will limit his total living expenses to $320 — the amount a minimum-wage worker makes — for the week of Sept. 28.